Friday, June 29, 2012

What Makes America Great?

If I were to ask you, “What makes America great?”  What would you say?  

This week I had the chance to attend an educational conference. The evening before the conference began; I took a look at the agenda.  Hoping to sit in on some great break-out sessions, I was dismayed to discover that for the next two days, only four speakers were invited to present.  Each speaker would be given a three hour time-slot to talk with only a 15 minute break to divide their presentation. 

What did I sign up for? I wondered.  What if they’re boring?  Visions of my attention span slowly being killed by images on a screen aka “Death by Power Point” ran through my mind.  Is sitting in an air-conditioned auditorium for three hours at a time any different than a long plane ride?  Maybe; instead of watching a movie, you’re listening to an expert with a Ph. D discuss current trends in education.  Otherwise, it’s similar.  You still find yourself squirming in your seat for a half hour because you drank too much coffee and now you’re trapped.  You’ll burst your bladder before you’ll ask the ten people seated to your left to stand up so you can relieve yourself.  

I want to be clear, the conference was great and I was grateful to have had the chance to attend it.  I’m just trying to illustrate the fact that by the afternoon of the second day I was feeling a little weary.  It was 90 degrees outside, my back was stiff, my hamstrings were tight, and I was about ready to fall asleep due to the massive amounts of carbohydrates that I had just consumed for lunch.  The person sitting next to me leaned over as if encouraging me in the final lap of a race and said….”just one more speaker today, one more.”  I braced myself and then….

Dr. Willard Daggett Ed. D started to speak.  After he finished his introductory remarks, he held the audience’s attention captive in his hands as the room fell silent.  Every eye was glued to the stage, trumping the laptops, iPads, and smartphones people held in their hands.  For the next 20 minutes, the woman sitting two rows behind me sniffled, unable to contain her emotion. Listen to Dr. Daggett’s opening comments below:

I know there are many things that make America great; the ability for people with disabilities to obtain an education is just one of them.  I know our schools are not without their flaws, but Dr. Daggett reminds us that they are not without their successes either.  

I hope you have a very happy 4th of July celebrating with friends and family!  We’ll return to our discussion around beauty the week of July 8th.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Revealing Beauty in the Face of Deformity

“When you meet me, you’re going to notice that I walk with a limp.”  I was talking to a match I had been paired with through eHarmony for a while and it was time to meet for a date.  “The reason I walk the way I do is because I have very mild cerebral palsy.  I don’t want you to be surprised; I think you should meet me before you make any judgments.”  The phone was silent for a moment.  I held my breath, waiting for his response.

“That’s okay Jenny.  I’m not perfect either.  I’ve had 13 facial reconstructive surgeries to repair the muscles in my face that never developed.  I’m also missing an ear.”  Now it was my turn to be silent.

Is there beauty to be revealed within physical deformity, or is it all gross anatomy?  Our culture seems to be both fascinated and repulsed by this subject.  The World Press Photo of the Year in 2010 was of an Afghan woman “whose nose and ears were cut off by her husband.”  Meanwhile, Facebook banned the posting of pictures of a baby who was born with Anencephaly which was the cause of major birth defects.  

If beauty is indeed found within in the eye of the beholder, what happens when beholders don’t like what they see?  Does the beauty within the beholden cease to exist, or does it remain, shining through, independent of perception?

The Phantom of the Opera

Mephibosheth, a character in the Old Testament, seemed to struggle with the problem of perception.  He was dropped as a child resulting in a crippling injury.  When called to appear before the King of Israel, he questioned the invitation by asking, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Sam. 9:8).

In a recent book I read, The Gift of Pain, Dr. Paul Brand tells of his many interactions working with patients who had leprosy, a disease which often results in severe facial deformity.  One patient, John, suffered from facial paralysis making it virtually impossible to smile.  One of his eyes was partially sewn shut in an effort protect his deteriorating sight.  Dr. Brand encouraged him to go to church, to interact with other people.  In response to this invitation, he yelled, “No one likes an ugly face!”

Some scientists would argue that this gentleman is right.  Beauty, they say has to do with symmetry.  Somehow, we’re “hardwired” to like eyes that are a certain width apart and heads that are of a certain length.  Watch the video featuring BeyoncĂ© Knowles here:  

I won’t argue that BeyoncĂ© Knowles isn’t beautiful. (If for nothing else, she has made it vogue to be a single lady!)  But this video raises a bigger question, aren’t all people beautiful just because they’re human?  Are there really times when it is appropriate to judge one person as beautiful and another as ugly?   

When I look at People Magazine’s list of “Most Beautiful People,” or their annual judgment of who is the “Sexiest Man Alive,” I frequently see two things: flawless perfection and hidden pain. But, when I consider a person who lives with deformity, I think the reverse is often true.  Their pain is usually very visible, while their beauty is hidden.  I believe it is here, upon these lives, that God creates a canvas, weaving His most stunning tapestries of redemption; revealing beauty in the face of pain.

After all, Mephibosheth ended up with a permanent seat at the king’s dining table, John was embraced by a man he met at church, who offered him employment in his factory.  John went on to win a national award for the work he produced.  As for my date, his solo ear had given him the gift of perfect pitch! 

Questions to consider:
·         Do you believe all humans are beautiful independent of their physical appearance?
·         Do you struggle to see the beauty that can be revealed in the face of deformity?
·         Upon whose life have you seen God’s greatest works of redemption?

Much of this content was based upon her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women:

The book I mentioned is The Gift of Pain: Why We Hurt and What We Can Do About It by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey.  (Zondervan, 1997).

Finally, Judy Hougen has written some profound words on topic of beauty that can be found on her blog, Coracle Journeys.  Here are two great posts:  The Hope of Wounded Beauty and A Little More on Broken Beauty.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Beauty Through HIS Eyes

Greetings!  In honor of Father's Day, I asked Aimee Libby to write about the "beauty of parenting a child with a disability."  I think you will be blessed by what she has to share!


Beauty Through HIS Eyes
By Special Guest Blogger, Aimee Libby

We’ve all heard the saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but sadly our society tends to judge beauty based on initial outward appearance. Let’s be honest, we’ve probably all seen a pretty lady who is very physically fit stroll past us out in public, thinking to ourselves, “Sheesh, now THAT is a beautiful woman”.  The media certainly doesn’t hold back when trying to convince us what beauty should look like…even if their images have been digitally enhanced and could never humanly be achieved. It’s obvious what the world wants us to believe true beauty is. Just page through a popular magazine or watch a couple TV commercials.

It wasn’t until I had a child with special needs that I discovered what true beauty is. Yes, in the world’s eyes our daughter Peyton appears broken and lacking in the important areas. Academically she’s far behind her peers. Physically she can be quite clumsy at times. Socially she often interjects at times that may not seem acceptable or appropriate.  I’ll be the first to admit, she’s a quirky kid. She loves cars – Hot Wheels and “movie cars” as she calls them. What type of normal 8-year-old girl loves cars, to the point where she has collected HUNDREDS of them? Peyton also loves spending time with elderly people, asking all types of questions about them and their lives, and wanting to help them in any way she can – even if that just means singing some songs for them to put a smile on their face.  And if you put Peyton in a room full of 99 normal people and 1 not-normal person, she would immediately be drawn to that 1 person. She wouldn’t just be drawn to them, she’d go running to them…and if you watched how she interacted and responded to them, you’d think they’d known each other their whole lives. To her, they’d be the most beautiful person of all. 

You see, Peyton will probably never be an academic scholar or a world-class athlete – but she’s something far more impressive than either of those. She was created with a beautiful spirit that loves and embraces everyone she comes in contact with, regardless of his or her ability or disability. She sees the good in everyone she meets, to the point where she invites anyone and everyone over for dinner the first time she meets them…even strangers at the grocery store or post office. Peyton also has the most empathetic heart of anyone I’ve ever met. We joke that Peyton has radar that can detect anyone with a cane or walker, using crutches, wearing braces, or in a wheelchair because it never fails – every time we go somewhere she spots a person who she immediately becomes concerned about. We like to call her the “Question Queen” – right away, she starts with her questions. Did they break their leg? Did they have to have surgery? Are they sad? Do they need a hug? Can we help them? Do they want to come over for dinner or a play date? These are the questions we hear over and over again after Peyton sees someone in public like this. And at bedtime that person will be on the top of her list to pray for, even if we don’t know their name or circumstances. God knows, and that’s good enough for Peyton.

The other day I came across a verse that reminded me of the way Peyton views others, especially those with disabilities:

“For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7b

She looks past any outward or physical “flaws” and straight in to their souls to see the beauty that God created inside them. To her, each person she runs in to is an instant friend that she cares about, even if they only meet once – she remembers every detail about that person and the time she spent with them. This quality is not something that can be learned or bought; instead, Peyton’s gift to see others as Christ sees them {perfect, created in His image and worthy of being treated as a best friend} is one of the many things she’s been blessed with. I know we’re not supposed to be jealous of others, but I can honestly say that I’m jealous of the priceless gift Peyton has been given. She truly is beautiful from the inside out. May we all strive to be more like this sweet girl, not passing instant judgment on others, but rather giving them the same love and respect that Christ gives to us so that we can see the true beauty that God sees.

Aimee has a blog called “Welcome To Libbyland” where she writes about everyday life with the Libby family, feel free to stop by and visit…and please ignore the fact she’s not always great at updating the blog – lots of stuff happening in Libbyland, now to find the time to blog about it all! :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Beautiful Mind

What constitutes a beautiful mind?  Is it one that perceives sound, seamlessly tells skeletal muscles to move, or brings words to the mouth without an utterance of a stutter?  Is a mind beautiful when it enables an artist to paint a masterpiece, compose a concerto, or write a best-seller?  Is there beauty to be found in the calculations of an engineer, the discoveries of a scientist, or the convictions of a preacher?

I find myself confronted with these questions most often when I interact with people who have intellectual disabilities.  I’m reminded of how much I personally love deep thought and reflection.  I wonder what it would be like to experience life with a mind that works differently than my own.  I am challenged with the desire to see the beauty that lies within intellectual limitation.

I remember the first time I met a child with severe autism.  I watched him for a week during the summer as he struggled to cut paper with a scissors, interact with other children, and speak clearly.  Usually, he moaned.  I wasn’t sure how to interact with him until one day during snack time.  He walked up to me silently and held out his Capri Sun and straw.  I looked at him, understanding his predicament.  “Do you need some help?” I asked.  He silently nodded.  I inserted the yellow tube into his drink and handed it back to him.  Suddenly, he did something unexpected and wonderful—out of deep gratitude, he gave me a hug!  

When I reflect on that encounter, I realize that a beautiful mind might simply be one that knows how to give and respond to love.

Sometimes when I interact with people who have intellectual disabilities, I feel like I catch glimpses of the freedom that can exist within intellectual constraint.  When a mind can’t comprehend everything it should, it seems to focus on the simple matters in life—those that are most important.  There’s one person I know with an intellectual disability who every time she sees me, makes a conscious effort to say hello, sometimes with words, sometimes with a wave.  Her greetings have challenged me to reconsider my priorities, to slow down, and perhaps fill my mind with fewer thoughts—creating space to take in the humanity that surrounds me.  After all, are there many things more important to notice than when one human being acknowledges another?  This is the type of intellection that I find absolutely stunning!  

What struck me most recently was an experience that I had this weekend.  Some girl friends and I went to pack meals at Feed My Starving Children for a few hours on Saturday.  It is fun for a while, but the reality is that the task of scooping chicken, soy, veggies, and rice rapidly becomes routine. My mind quickly started to wonder as I thought about how non-stimulating this task was and how, if I had a choice, I would rather be involved in the engineering team who developed the food recipe than the one packaging it. I’m getting my doctorate for Pete’s sake!  I wanted to scream 45 minutes into our shift.  I can do more than this! I ended up sealing bags of food next to a man who was cognitively delayed.  He had come with his family and was given the job of stacking bags of food into piles until they were ready to be boxed.  He couldn’t call out to the warehouse when the box was finished and I suspect he would have been overwhelmed at the task of scooping food—what he could do, he did with a smile.  

The beauty of that man’s heart, mind, and motives far exceeded my own.  He was working with all that he had to serve others and the Lord with joy.    

I want to leave you today by introducing you to another beautiful mind—Stephen Wiltshire.


Discussion Questions:

1.       What do you think makes a mind beautiful?

2.      How has interacting with others who have intellectual limitations challenged you or given you a new perspective?

Photo Credits:


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why is beauty hard to see?

I’m excited to be on this journey with you to “explore the beauty that is to be revealed within the experience of disability and human limitation.”  I suspect, in some ways, this task could be challenging because I don’t think it’s always easy to see the beauty that exists in another person or in you, especially when faced with adversity.  It’s evident, I believe it is certainly there, but sometimes I feel like you have to dig for it!  Why?  When triumph of the human spirit, sheer determination, and even sweet surrender seem to shine radiantly at times through people who face unique challenges, why is it still hard sometimes to see beauty in these situations?  I’ve thought of three reasons to start the conversation, but please, add more!  

1.        Even though facing disability and confronting limitation can produce character in an individual, sometimes the most immediate and strongest emotions a person experiences are negative.  A person wrestling with the acceptance of their condition may travel through the grieving process, experiencing emotions like shame, sadness, and frustration over the way their body looks, moves, and feels.  These emotions can be intense, and I think that in the moment it becomes challenging to focus on any redeeming aspects of the situation, like beauty. 

2.       We try to hide our flaws and our limitations, making them harder to see.  I think we all do this—not just people with disabilities.  I believe the game of masking our deficits is one that can be played on large and small scales.  I’ve done both—working to be the “perfect” student to somehow compensate for my disability—hoping that attempting to do something flawlessly will somehow shadow my flaws.  I hide in subtle ways too—wearing sandals that completely cover my toes so no one can see how my left foot is shaped differently from my right foot.  It’s all in vain; eventually the school year ends; eventually I have to take off my shoes and reveal my feet.

3.       I think our tendency to hide our flaws is rooted in ugly truth.  We live in a society whose standard of beauty is flawless perfection.  That standard is certainly “not right,” but what’s even truer is that it’s also “not human!”  We’re constantly comparing ourselves to each other and to images that have been technologically advanced, putting ourselves down because somehow we don’t measure up.  I wish we took more time to remember that biological diversity is absolutely essential to the survival of the human race—our very lives are dependent upon our differences.

The Dove Company stared a “Campaign for Real Beauty.”  Take a look at the videos below.  One shows a woman’s image being artificially altered and the other shows a man’s image being changed.  


Questions to Discuss:

1.        What is your definition of beauty?
2.       What is your reaction to these videos?
3.       Do you find it easy or hard to see beauty in situations where you may encounter another person with a disability or come face to face with your own limitations?
4.       Do you have any more ideas why it is sometimes challenging to see beauty?